State is No. 3 in bullying problems

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State is No. 3 in bullying problems
By Pamela Pritt, Register-Herald Reporter

In spite of its relatively high ranking for both anti-bullying policies and laws, West Virginia is ranked third overall in bullying problems, according to a WalletHub survey by Richie Bernardo. 

West Virginia's total score was 58.93, just behind Michigan at 60.18 and Louisiana at 59.34. The Mountain State was ranked 6th for bullying prevalence, 20th for bullying impact and environment and 12th for anti-bullying laws. 

West Virginia was ranked 5th for percentage of high school students bullied on school property and 2nd for percentage of high school students bullied online. 

Massachusetts scored best overall with 23.33, followed by North Carolina with 29.86 and Vermont with 30. 

Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington were omitted from the study because of data limitations, the report said. 

According to Monica S. Bixby, a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University, many factors can contribute to a child becoming a bully, including a negative home environment, delinquent peers, residing in an unsafe neighborhood and prior experience with victimization. 

"Children who are the victims of bullying often become bullies themselves," Bixby said in the report. "While we typically think that there are two groups of children in regards to bullying — the bullies and the victims — there is actually a third group, those who are both the bullies and the victims."

To protect children from cyber-bullying, Bixby said communication is key. 

Parents should start talking to their children about appropriate social media interactions before children are allowed to engage in online activities," she said. "Parents should set clear expectations for their children's behaviors and also monitor tier online activities." 

While parents may not be able to prevent their children becoming a victim of cyber-bullying, she said it is important to keep open lines of communication so that children know they have a support system and someone to talk to about sensitive issues, Bixby wrote. 

"Children should never feel like they have to cope with being the victim of cyber-bullying alone," she wrote. " Parents should also lead by example and be conscious of the example that they are setting for their children through their own social media interactions."

Bixby recommended that states develop bullying prevention programs that provide educational resources and support for bullies, their victims and their families. 

"Because the relationship between bullies and bully victims are often blurred, programs should provide support for both, since victims of bullying may consequently become the next generation of bullies," Bixby said. 

She also recommended advocacy groups to promote positive peer relationships during childhood and adolescence, and programs that teach respect, inclusivity, empathy and accountability.

"Learning to think differently and learning to work together in a collaborative environment may help cultivate positive relationships among adolescents and deter subsequent bullying," Bixby said.